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UPI: U.N. atomic watchdog clears Japan's plan to release Fukushima wastewater

4-7-2023 |

After a two-year safety review, the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday approved Japan's plan to release radioactive wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the U.N. atomic watchdog, released the final safety report at a press conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

In the report's foreword, Grossi said that the IAEA concluded Japan's plans are "consistent with relevant international safety standards."

"The IAEA notes the controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea, as currently planned and assessed by [plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Company], would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment," he said.

More than 1 million metric tons of water, most of it used to cool the Fukushima plant's three overheating reactors, has been stored on the site since the March 2011 tsunami that caused the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The water has been treated by a filtration and pumping system known as advanced liquid processing system, or ALPS, which removes all radioactivity except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen. Before discharging it into the Pacific Ocean, Japan will dilute the water to bring the tritium to below regulatory standards.

Grossi said the safety review answered the technical questions about the plan and was "neither a recommendation nor an endorsement" of Japan's policy. He added that the IAEA would have a continuous on-site presence during the discharge phase and would provide live online monitoring on its website.

Japan's plan to release the treated wastewater, first announced in early 2021, has caused alarm among environmental groups, the fishing industry and neighboring countries.

China has been vocally opposed to what it called the Japanese government's "unilateral and wrong decision," which it claims is based on minimizing economic cost.

"The world is gravely concerned about the impact of this act on marine environment and people's health," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a press conference last week. "Humanity will have to face the nuclear pollution risks stemming from Japan."

While diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Seoul have improved significantly in recent months, public opinion in South Korea is fiercely against the release. A recent joint survey by the Hankook Ilbo and Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspapers found 84% of respondents opposed the plan.

Japan has not yet specified a date to start the wastewater release, which it says will take decades to complete.

Environmental group Greenpeace has long been critical of the treatment plan, warning that remaining radioactive materials can accumulate in the food chain and calling instead for continued long-term storage.

Source: UPI